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Back to School for Me, Too

When my first child entered school, I signed my name on a sheet in the hallway of the preschool volunteering to clean up after the school Christmas party. Easy enough. Happy to help. That sign up turned into sorting clothes for the kids’ stuff sale, chaperoning the field trip and bringing something to every classroom holiday celebration. All fine. But then I got ambushed dropping off my son for the first day of the mother’s day out program. It’s a one morning a week class for kids under 2. They really needed a room parent. Could I do it? Of course.

But nobody told me there would be meetings. Meetings about how to be a room parent, meetings about other events coming up in the school and meetings about fundraisers, lots of fundraisers. And once they get you to the meetings, they’ve really got you and around about March someone sidles up to you and tells you they think you’d be really great as the auction chair or the education chair or as the book sale chair on next year’s board. And now hours of my life are slipping by discussing the canopy for the playground. And then there are the e-mails. E-mails about teacher gifts and the snow policy and the spring celebration and e-mails about whether I sent a reminder e-mail or that an e-mail will be going out soon.

Oh, I know. Someone needs to do it. It’s a church-based program. Tuition is inexpensive. Schools need parent support, hours and funds to create the best possible environment for students. Nobody needs to convince me of that. And the women (yes, they are all women) on the board are smart and funny. I like them all. I want to help. I just don’t need another job. I have one. I have several, in fact. One as a mom, another one in the professional world, and one as treasurer, secretary, and social and education chair in my own home. And no, I don’t think I’m any busier than these other women are. Many have twice as many kids as I do, fewer child care resources or more hours at a paying job.

So I wonder what drives them? I’m there because I’m chicken. These wonderful women scare me. I don’t want to be the one who gets talked about for not pulling my weight; the one who (scoff) volunteers to bring the napkins to every class party. I’m afraid of looking selfish for wanting to work or go running or read a book during those few hours my kids are in school each week. I just wonder how many other parents are there out of the same mix of guilt and fear. And I wonder what’s reasonable for a school to ask of a parent’s time and energy and resources. And when it’s reasonable for me to say no.


-- Guest blogger Kristen Fletcher

By Nancy Kerr |  September 10, 2009; 8:24 AM ET  | Category:  Work/Life Balance
Previous: 'NurtureShock' Authors on Research and Practice | Next: Budget Birthday Bashes

Comments


It's reasonable for you to say no when you're only there out of "guilt and fear."

If these women have nothing better to do than scoff at people who "only" bring napkins to the party, then do you really want their good opinion anyway? And if so, why? Is that really, truly, the kind of mom you want to be, sitting in meetings and looking down your nose on other moms who don't meet whatever arbitrary standards they have set?

Posted by: laura33 | September 10, 2009 8:35 AM | Report abuse

This must be a hoax.

Posted by: jezebel3 | September 10, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

Ditto what laura33 said.
You do what you can do, because, yes, someone has to do it. But you get a back bone and stand up for yourself and your own needs too, and that means saying no to the things that you can't do without excessive sacrifice. No one person has to do it all. Otherwise you are cheating yourself and your own family in favor of some elusive (and probably imaginary) approval.

Posted by: VaLGaL | September 10, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse

One more example of the 80/20 rule. In this case, odds are, 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. Why? Some of them LOVE the work. Some feel guilty. Some actually have the time. What about single, working parents? I can't attend meetings, because I would need a babysitter to do so. And that's gets expensive, fast. So I'll be the parent who volunteers to bring in cookies (hey, I love to bake, so I can go beyond napkins), but if it's been a busy week, I may just sign up for juice boxes instead. Because that's the time/energy/money I have available.

Posted by: JHBVA | September 10, 2009 8:51 AM | Report abuse

I agree with laura as well. When you're only doing it because you feel like you have to rather than you want to, that's when you say no. You don't want you want to do and don't mind doing, and say no to the rest.

Posted by: dennis5 | September 10, 2009 9:01 AM | Report abuse

I hear you sister! I've got 3 kids and have been asked on more than one occasion to be the room parent (my husband too I might add). We've both politely replied "no". Not because we don't want to and not because we are all hoitee toitee about being room parents. It's simply a matter of time. Trust me, I want to be that room parent and Mommy who can do it all. But I am also realistic about our situation. Being the room parent for any of my kids classrooms would be a detriment to not just my kids but the teachers of the classroom. I've simply had to accept the fact that I don't have the time and do my part to be the parent that remembers the teachers request for diapers, sunscreen and signatures on homework and class notes. At least the teacher's getting a kid who has brushed teeth, clean clothes, and finished homework as well as a parent who who works hard to ensure the teachers rules are followed and homework gets turned in.

For those of us who really can't do it all, shouldn't that be enough?

http://suburbtopia.blogspot.com

Posted by: starrena | September 10, 2009 9:04 AM | Report abuse

Were you the office doormat? Sheesh.

Posted by: jezebel3 | September 10, 2009 9:04 AM | Report abuse

Isn't the real problem that so much of this is totally unnecessary?

Do these children need the party food, do the teachers need the group gifts, do we need all this extra effort and time that has nothing to do with education?

The worst of all is the mandatory snack duty for sport teams - please. If there were some needy children who would otherwise not have food, I would be happy to bring snacks. Otherwise, why don't parents just bring something for their own child, if necessary, and be done with it? Why are we geting together and demanding that we supply food for already well-fed, non-needy children??

The author is perpetuating the problem and should instead focus on how to stop making ridiculous demands on parents.

Posted by: Amelia5 | September 10, 2009 9:09 AM | Report abuse

Learn to say no and stop whining! Good googly, it's pre-school, you have 15 years of school ahead of you and hundreds of classrooms to deal with.

Find some friends that are like minded too, that might help.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | September 10, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Thank you Amelia5! i totally agree!

just as many parents overschedule their older kids and make everyone miserable in the process, i've noticed our 2y.o.'s daycare doing the same thing!!!

they need chaperons for this outing our that party. they schedule welcome back meetings at 10 a.m. in the middle of the week.

the staff is really well-intended with all of this extra stuff, but in our opinion, it is completely unnecessary and it adds up to an extra burden on the parents.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | September 10, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

btw, i'm halfway through reading Nurtureshock. i now understand why Brian spent two days on the subject - the book is fascinating and a great read.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | September 10, 2009 9:21 AM | Report abuse

I can relate to this. I have felt the pressure to volunteer and contribute, sometimes to events and causes that seem like overkill. Several years ago, my kids Day Care Center was having fundraisers and asking parents to sell cookie dough and desserts (toddlers can't do it), as well as purchasing plaques to fund a playground renovation. The school eventually closed abruptly because they'd made some bad investment choices, devastating many families and employees who had given it their loyal support and money. I certainly don't mind the 'co-op' approach in day care and pre-school, and I think the employees need to be paid a decent wage and offered benefits, but the books should be subject to scrutiny, and extra expenses should be part of the tuition.

Now my kids are in a parochial school and I do try to do my part to volunteer when I can. Yes, there are some parents who don't have jobs outside the home that become the uber volunteers. Some are wonderful, while others are 'Queen Bees' that need to get a life. I remember at once volunteer event, one of them scolded me because she didn't care for the way I was decorating with confetti (sheesh!) I try to have a sense of humour and set limits. Sometimes the phrase "I'd like to help this time, but..." comes in handy. I try to use my sense of humor, especially with the Queen Bees. Finally, if you know that some volunteering is part of the package at your school, it might help to be proactive and volunteer when you know you have time. Some schools have a minimum volunteer hour commitment, and everyone is expected to contribute to keep costs and tuition down.

Posted by: HuckleberryFriend | September 10, 2009 9:23 AM | Report abuse

"I don’t want to be the one who gets talked about for not pulling my weight; the one who (scoff) volunteers to bring the napkins to every class party. I’m afraid of looking selfish for wanting to work or go running or read a book during those few hours my kids are in school each week. I just wonder how many other parents are there out of the same mix of guilt and fear."

How on earth are you going to teach your kids to be themselves and not care what other people think? And how are you going to teach them that they don't have to succumb to peer pressure and be like everybody else if YOU can't stand up to it and care so deeply about what people might be saying about you? Grow up. Do what you can and want to do for the school, and politely decline the rest. You don't owe anybody an explanation. It's not that difficult.

Posted by: raynecloud | September 10, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

I think I am young enough to maybe remember this from the student's angle-my mother volunteered constantly at the school when I was in elementary school. I will admit I did find it comforting to have her there. But then by the time I was in middle school she had MS and couldn't be at the school. However, by that point most of my friends and I thought the mothers around needed to get their own lives. I can remember two mothers in particular that we thought were busybodies and even as kids we thought they were more into their power at the school then really helping. By the time we were in middle school we were more fascinated by the mothers with careers. So I don't know if this helps any of those mothers who are too busy/stressed to help at school.

Also, I have a SIL who is CONSTANTLY at the school, home room mother for 2 rooms, Girl Scout leader, etc and I don't know what her kids think about it but I see what problems it causes at home when she seems to never have time to make dinner, do laundry, etc. Her husband-and no, I am not sticking up for my brother, he is a BIL, is always making little comments about how she should go back to work if she has so much time to volunteer at the school. Sometimes when she is complaining to me about being tired I would love to say stop volunteering at school so much!!

Posted by: sunflower571 | September 10, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

And herein lies the benefits to being a non-custodial step parent. The school doesn't even know I exist.

Posted by: Billie_R | September 10, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse

I agree that you shouldn't do more than you can - but most of us want to make the most of our kids' experiences.. and that means someone has to do it! I live in an area that has a lot of parent participation, but still it generally falls on the same people's shoulder's to fully coordinate. I think that's just the way it is - if you seem friendly and able, you're going to be asked time and time again to step up. Everyone gets overwhelmed by it from time to time (this obviously being prime time!), but you have to step back and see if it's worth it overall. If you don't want to give a gift the your kids' teachers, don't; if you don't want to take in bday treats, don't.. who's making you? I think they both are fine and well-deserved.

Posted by: bookish1 | September 10, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

And herein lies the benefits to being a non-custodial step parent. The school doesn't even know I exist.

Posted by: Billie_R | September 10, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse


LOL! I have the perfect excuse; I don't drive.

Posted by: jezebel3 | September 10, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

"How on earth are you going to teach your kids to be themselves and not care what other people think?"

Unless you think arrogance is a virtue, teaching your kids to care what others think is a parental responsibility.

And volunteering out of a sense of duty and obligation is just as worthy a reason as doing it for the redeeming social value people experience when working with a group. Personally, I think peer pressure motivates more for the good than the bad, so if somebody feels put out by their time and effort when they would rather be doing something else, I say good for them. Without sacrifice, charity would not exist.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | September 10, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Maybe I'll change my mind when my child is older, but I honestly love this stuff. I miss way too much work, but there's nothing I would rather do than help my child's teacher, however they need me.

That being said, I don't expect all the other parents to be able to pitch in, it's just something I like to do.

And there's nothing wrong with being the person who brings napkins to the party! Somebody's gotta do it.

Posted by: Marimom | September 10, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Please save some of your volunteering energy for high school. We don't see too many parents at the high school PTA meetings. It's really a shame because the PTA is responsible for many programs that enrich the academic life at the school (i.e., Ethics Day; practice SAT/ACT; college night; Academic awards; arts and academic club promotion, etc.) - but many parents seem worn out by the teenage years and aren't terribly interested in participating in general kinds of school volunteering. Most of the "involved parents" are band parents, sports parents, etc. and are very involved in fundraising and working for those specific activities. But it would be great to see a few more show up for PTA.....

Posted by: GroovisMaximus61 | September 10, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Without sacrifice, charity would not exist.


Posted by: WhackyWeasel | September 10, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse


How much volunteering do you do? How much money do you donate to charity?

Posted by: jezebel3 | September 10, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

I usually tried to do something. It's a good way to meet other kids/parents and to get a chance to know your own child better.

I taught Sunday School for years (17 to be exact) because I enjoyed it and felt like it was important. As a result I know many bible stories, my kids know the stories and I know almost an entire generation of kids at our church.

I helped out at cub scouts and boy scouts because I used to be a scout and I kind of liked it. I can tie several kinds of knots as a result.

I never cared for the "mothers" in the PTA and preferred to volunteer for the things where you did something with the kids. The messier the activity the better. I spent way too much time at work to spend my at-home time in "meetings."

I think say no if it's not what you like to do. I hated fund raisers - more than once I just ponied up our $hare to avoid selling junk. Someone who can run a garage sale in her sleep might just love fund raisers.

Just like sane parents limit their kids to just a few activities they limit themselves too.

Posted by: RedBird27 | September 10, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Jezebel, just because you don't drive, doesn't give you the perfect excuse. I don't drive either, but I'm the one that gets asked to do a presentation every time one of my kids comes across the helen Keller chapter in social studies.

Of course, the first thing I tell the students is that, if I were their teacher, they would never have to raise their hand to be recognized. Makes no sense, just blurt it out as long as I have the floor. Then I tell them if we have time at the end, I'll pop my eye out for them to examine.

Kids love it. Some Teachers/volunteers for that day are horrified. None the less, I get sincerely thanked for my time.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | September 10, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

One of the mothers I mentioned who was ALWAYS at our school didn't drive either. Funny the things you remember!

Posted by: sunflower571 | September 10, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Kids love it. Some Teachers/volunteers for that day are horrified. None the less, I get sincerely thanked for my time.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | September 10, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse


You said "Without sacrifice, charity would not exist." Where is the sacrifice when you give presentations? You're getting attention. Isn't that your goal?

What other volunteer work do you do?

Posted by: jezebel3 | September 10, 2009 11:21 AM | Report abuse

"And there's nothing wrong with being the person who brings napkins to the party!"

As long as the napkins match the tablecloths, or that person will be denied the next time around. Women impose some pretty brutal standards of party detail on one another. LOL!

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | September 10, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Where is the children's father in Ms. Fletcher's story? Is she also afraid of saying no to him when he says he's too busy to do any of these things?

Posted by: tomtildrum | September 10, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

"As long as the napkins match the tablecloths,"

It's juvenile of me, but that sounds like the old euphemism about the carpet aand the drapes.

Posted by: tomtildrum | September 10, 2009 11:31 AM | Report abuse

"As long as the napkins match the tablecloths,"

It's juvenile of me, but that sounds like the old euphemism about the carpet aand the drapes.

Posted by: tomtildrum | September 10, 2009 11:31 AM | Report abuse


Or, the collar and the cuffs. Is this woman afraid to say "no" in the bedroom? Where do these doormats come from?

Posted by: jezebel3 | September 10, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

tomtildrum, please meet jezebel...jezebel, this is tom.
Folks, I think we have a winner!

Posted by: VaLGaL | September 10, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

tomtildrum, please meet jezebel...jezebel, this is tom.
Folks, I think we have a winner!

Posted by: VaLGaL | September 10, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse


I prefer a clean work surface.

Posted by: jezebel3 | September 10, 2009 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Huh?

Posted by: tomtildrum | September 10, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Is this classroom mom thing something in private schools? Because I have never heard of it before.

As far as volunteering, I do what I can for the school. I try to be at each field trip. One reason is I want to let my daughter know I care about her and her education. I also want to be a visible presence in her school and community.

But as a WOHM, I often have more money than time. So sometimes I go the extra mile financially because I don't have the time to cut out felt shapes or paint the scenery. If they ask parents for donated supplies, I always try to throw in a little extra. I donate a lot of money for extra classroom books and supplies. I look at it like some parents can give time, some can give money, some can give a little of each, and some can only contribute their well taken care of children. Coming from the public school, you can't make assumptions about what every one's family situation is like. So we all do what we can.

Lucky for me, no one from the PTA has ever approached me. I think I would just smile and say "no, thank you."

Posted by: foamgnome | September 10, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Just "volunteer" for the things that are fun. That's what we do.

We no longer have a kid in elementary school, but we still get called every year when "our" elementary school starts planning the annual Talent Night fund raiser. We've worked at other venues, so we're really good sound engineers. DH helped the PTA buy the school's sound system years ago. Most of the other events at the school also involve some use of the PA, and DH will usually go set it up and test it (if he gets a call a day or so ahead of time and he's available), but usually doesn't stay for the event.

But Talent Night is special for us. We're really good at teaching the kids how to use/hold a microphone, and encouraging them to sing (or speak, or recite a poem) "to the people in the very back of the room", because we've worked with (so called) professionals who can be *extremely* difficult, tempramental, and demanding - grade school kids are so much easier.

And there is no experience quite like watching a truly terrified 2nd grader whose just seen the audience, conquer his stage fright, dry his tears without his mommy - who he'd been asking for - then walk out on stage and do a handful of stage-magic tricks, and come back still shaking, but now grinning from ear to ear, too. I made sure I tracked him down after the show was over, to tell him that in the 15 years I've been doing sound work, he was absolutely the bravest performer I had *ever* seen.

We love that talent show so much. That's why we keep doing it.

Posted by: SueMc | September 10, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

I know of two "classroom moms" and their kids are in public schools.

Posted by: sunflower571 | September 10, 2009 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Room parents are a public school thing here as well, just in the elementary school. By middle school/junior high, volunteering has pretty much petered out, and it's gone by high school, aside from parents helping with specific activities like sports, music or plays. I think it's more that the teachers don't need as much help than the parents are burned out. Plus older kids don't want their parents around :)

Posted by: dennis5 | September 10, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

"Isn't the real problem that so much of this is totally unnecessary?"

Amen. It's the third week of school where I live. My kid is in kindergarten. So, let me lay this out for you. We have had welcome back night, tie-dye day, parent's needed to open the milk cartons, parent's needed to be room mothers, Do you want to join this club?, how about you give us 35 dollars, We are having a family run a thon! Another 35 dollars, magazine sale, buy a t-shirt day, grandparent's Day is coming, and my all time favorite "come cry on our shoulder day because your kid is in school now." This leaves out that anyone and I mean anyone can go have lunch with the kids every day.

I would like to go to the PTA meetings and suggest "get a life day" for the mothers who need one. All of this crap is stupid and interrupts the day and learning. Why the heck doesn't the board of education reel these mothers in? It's a school people. They are there to learn, not be your crutch because you are bored.

Posted by: supersonic2 | September 10, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse

In public schools, is it the PTA that comes up with all these events? or just the teachers or what? Just curious.

Posted by: JJ321 | September 10, 2009 3:12 PM | Report abuse

btw, brian, on the onparenting page, it still says: by Stacey Garfinkle in the top of the browser...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | September 10, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Seriously, at our school the fundraising is necessary.
I hate it too - since they give the kids 'prizes' and bribe them. And my kid had the nerve last year to tell me that he got some crappy toy because HE sold whatever.
No, kid, your MOM sold the crap. That's the way it goes.

But seriously, in our elementary school, the board of ed gives our school *HALF* the amount of money they need to keep the school running (yes you read correctly). So the money has to be raised to keep the lights on (AND I also send in SO MANY supplies it's crazy).
Other schools in the district are title one, so they get half from the district and half from the federal government.
It's absurd and disgusting, frankly. Cause I pay a heckuva lot in property taxes.

Yuck.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | September 10, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

I will send food in for parties, or chaperone field trips, or other activities that involve actual time with the kids. At our school, the PTA is run by a clique, so I generally stay away. They are a very exclusive group that meets regularly at the local coffee shop, and the barista that works there calls them the Botox Ladies behind their backs. LOL.

Posted by: emily8 | September 10, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Hi! Thanks for this topic. My boy also just started kindergarden and I am kind of horrified at all the things I'm being asked to do. Am trying to stay balanced and say yes or no realistically & realize that other people have the skills & interests that I don't, so I don't have to do everything.
But I'd like to note one more factor: at our school (Catholic): we are receiving 50% tuition discount, and with that comes (direct quote) "the expectation of significant parent involvement." Oh dear.
I wanted to be very involved, of course (we considered homeschooling) but these things are not what I expected. I wanted to volunteer in the class once a week but was told too many parents want to do that, so I would be there much less frequently.
I'd like to say that Kristen's attitude does not have to do with being some kind of crazy doormat: when your first child starts school you are nervous & worried, entering a new community and wondering if you have chosen right for him/her-- it is like sending them to preschool for the first time, or having a babysitter for the first time way back when or learning to breastfeed or something like that. It is new and scary and of course it sends you off balance til you can catch your breath and look around.

Posted by: liziko | September 10, 2009 8:47 PM | Report abuse

Hi Kristen-
It's funny how imposing and mystical it all volunteering school is in the beginning. I think that most parents volunteer because it makes them feel connected to their kids and because they've heard about the positive affects it has on their children. Here's article that speaks to the importance of being involved in your kid's school:
http://www.ptotoday.com/pto-today-articles/article/399-involvement-matters-what-to-tell-parents
Hope you have some fun volunteering. Your child will thank you... eventually!
~Lisa

Posted by: lgundlach | September 13, 2009 6:35 PM | Report abuse

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